For Bollywood, which rolled out multiple big hits in the first half of last year, the past six months were a time to forget. Losses during the period have crossed ₹1,000 crore, three industry experts said, as theatres remain shut for more than 100 days.
The coronavirus lockdown has led to zero revenues for theatre owners and deprived the exhibition business of a bunch of big-ticket, mid-sized and small-scale films—a missed box office bonanza during the summer vacation when crowds usually throng cinemas.
“It has been a complete disaster," said film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar, adding that in comparison, the first half of 2019 had notched up revenues of ₹2,400 crore. However, even before cinemas shut shop mid-March, 2020 was lagging behind 2019 with flops such as Chhapaak (box office collections of ₹32.55 crore), Panga ( ₹22.36 crore) and Love Aaj Kal ( ₹33.39 crore). Other underperfomers included Street Dancer 3D ( ₹62.20 crore), Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan ( ₹58.92 crore) and Thappad ( ₹29.70 crore). Ajay Devgn’s Tanhaji-The Unsung Warrior ( ₹269.70 crore) and Tiger Shroff’s Baaghi 3 ( ₹92.31 crore) were the only clear profit-makers in this period, with the latter having suffered a hit to its business as theatres shut abruptly.
In contrast, the first half of 2019 had thrown up money-spinners such as Uri-The Surgical Strike ( ₹244 crore), Gully Boy ( ₹134.24 crore), Total Dhamaal ( ₹150.07 crore), Kesari ( ₹151.87 crore), Bharat ( ₹197.34 crore) and Kabir Singh ( ₹276.34 crore).
It would be unfair to compare this year with any other, Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, said, given the unusual circumstances. It is, however, hard to miss the potential for great business that the past three-month period carried with an impressive line-up of films including Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and Laxmmi Bomb, sports drama ’83, Varun Dhawan-starrer Coolie No.1 and Salman Khan’s Radhe, among others. The bigger blow comes from the fact that several potentially profitable films such as Shoojit Sarkar’s Gulabo Sitabo and Karan Johar’s Gunjan Saxena-The Kargil Girl have opted for direct-to-digital releases on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, respectively. Laxmmi Bomb and Ajay Devgn’s Bhuj: The Pride of India will release on Disney+ Hotstar.
“The two Eid offerings, Radhe and Laxmmi Bomb, together could have fetched at least ₹200 crore," Mohan said.
For now, theatre owners have bigger worries. With no clarity on when cinemas will reopen and films increasingly making their way to digital platforms, exhibitors are likely to struggle with low occupancies in the initial weeks after operations resume.
Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, joint managing director, PVR Ltd, said the challenge is to make up the loss of the past one quarter in the remaining three quarters of the year.
“There is no doubt the business is crumbling," Johar said.